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The Facts of the Matter: Looking Past Today's Rhetoric on the Environment and Responsible Development

The Facts of the Matter: Looking Past Today's Rhetoric on the Environment and Responsible Development

by David Parish


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Too Green to Be True? 

Does all the positive press about hybrid cars, alternative fuels, and the next ''green'' must-have product sound too good to be true? Well, maybe it is.

In The Facts of the Matter, Alaskan author David Parish provides a clear explanation of the environmental, technology, energy, and resources issues we face and shows how readers can move politicians, regulators, environmental groups, media, and businesses to truly take the action society needs to prosper.

​Parish helps readers cut through the noise and focus on an optimistic approach to green issues. He argues that the best way to conserve the planet and ourselves is the natural convergence of smart natural resource development with improving the lives of the growing population. The Facts of the Matter is the basis for a conversation, based on solutions rather than rhetoric, and will cause a rethinking of our biases—to the benefit of the greater good.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626344792
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 09/25/2018
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

David Parish has spent the last three decades as an independent business and nonprofit consultant, lobbyist, entrepreneur, and author. With Alaska as his home base for a diverse set of local, national, and international clients, David has worked around the globe as a business consultant and advisor, service volunteer, and curious traveler interested in how the traditional divides of “us versus them” approaches to natural resource development can be bridged and how the wealth from responsible natural resource development can be a catalyst for better environmental stewardship and the elimination of poverty.

Read an Excerpt


Following the Herd toward the Cliff

Two friends visiting over coffee at a local café a few years back were chatting about the latest green breakthrough that one of them had heard would stop global warming, save coastal cities from being washed away in the ensuing floods, clean the air, and save the planet. They were talking about a brand-new, ecologically revolutionary "eco-car" powered partially by an old-school gasoline-fired engine and partially by a battery that recharged as the car drove.

"In fact, now you can drive twice as far or more on just one tank of traditional gas and out-green your neighbors in the process!" said one. "And," he added, "the first consumers to buy these each year even get a federal tax break for saving the planet!"

His friend said, "Wow! Sounds too good to be true."

Just then, someone sitting at the next table leaned over and said, "Maybe it is."

Packaging their cars as "green," the world's biggest car makers are seeing huge profits with lines of "hybrids," with price premiums that are largely profit for them — straight to their bottom lines. They are particularly profitable for their parts and service departments, because hybrids require far more parts and equipment than traditional cars to support their dual gasoline and electric drive systems. Yet one of the biggest environmental ironies of the whole fad may be the battery-manufacturing process for these cars. Manufacture of the battery for the eco-car uses far more sophisticated metals than an old-school battery, and making the batteries is a highly energy-intensive process. The factories that make them are also virtually all on the traditional grid, powered largely by coal and fossil fuel.

The popularity of hybrid "eco-cars," despite a decidedly less "green" total footprint, is a classic example of the flaws in our current political, social, and cultural climates around the issue of environmentalism: We shun the nuance and complexities of these critical, world-changing issues in favor of bumper-sticker slogans and extreme positions. Mass hypocrisy and fearmongering have taken the place of critical thinking and reasoned dialogue. By oversimplifying and overlooking real problems, we too often preclude the possibility of real innovation and real solutions.

Shaping societal beliefs

A wave of "going green" is sweeping across the globe as caring for the planet has become a priority for many individuals and for most of society as a whole. It has taken on the significance of a spiritual experience for a great number of us, but as with many real and important human endeavors, the road to a precipitous cliff is paved with good intentions. We have a heartfelt desire to do the right thing for the planet, and as powerful interests take advantage of this, they play on our emotions and beliefs. In the process, our collective beliefs become even more skewed on the critical energy, resources, and environmental front.

Today's society has become conditioned by so many save the last campaigns, with their associated fear-based messaging, that we will do almost anything to save the planet, including buying virtually any product labeled as "green," because we think we are helping. And what I call The Big Green Machine — an informal and growing coalition of big media, big environmental groups, big government agencies, big businesses, and big politicians — knows this and plays to our emotions to advance their own agendas in the process. Underlying so many of these campaigns is a template, used over and over again, that inevitably creates perceptions of catastrophe. Along with that, we're constantly told that many of our day-to-day activities and actions are going to destroy the planet, hurt our kids, and end the world as we know it. These messages are in the news virtually every day, reshaping many societal beliefs in the process.

This leads to individual consumer and broader societal actions and decisions with regard to wise natural resource development, use, consumption, and conservation becoming increasingly skewed. When we hear something over and over again and believe it, it becomes our individual truth and, further, a societal truth. This reshaping of societal beliefs is especially harmful when it leads to collective beliefs based on fear rather than facts. New truths impact everything from individual consumer choices to national and global policies, often with huge environmental, economic, and social costs. They prevent us from making effective change, instead diverting our attention to shock value and only partial views of a story.

It is true that the planet's climate has been warming, glaciers have been receding around the world, and the polar ice cap has been melting for decades. However, the subtle and overt fear-based messaging that leads us to believe coastal cities like Manhattan face imminent threat of submersion is being used by various interests to further their own agendas, including those politicians who predicted the polar ice cap was going to completely melt in 2014. HYPERLINK "notes. Yes, the climate has been warming since the last ice age. And while the role of human activity and carbon emissions in global warming/climate change remains a hotly debated question, the fact is that many of the ideas we have been sold on as "solutions" actually lead to a larger environmental footprint around the globe.

The green machine

On a broad scale, environmental awareness has taken on many of the tenets of a traditional religious movement. A crusade dedicated to safeguarding the planet and its people, it has grown and morphed to include five major players: political leaders, government agencies, much of the media, advocacy groups, and big business. They are all part of an underlying movement that is playing to our individual spiritual connection to the planet and our desire to do the right thing. Yet if much of what we are being taught and told to do is not helping the planet and its people at all and, instead, may be doing just the opposite, how are so many people falling for it?

Much of the latest wave of "going green" began in the mid- and late-1980s, as environmental activist groups struggled to maintain their relevance. The global economy was growing at an increasing rate, and new environmental laws and technological breakthroughs were cleaning up the air and water across the United States and other developed countries. That wave changed direction on March 24, 1989, a day that will live on in infamy, as the Exxon Valdez ran aground — unleashing the largest oil spill in American history. I was a newly hired Exxon public affairs person thrust into the national spotlight as one of their primary international spokesmen in Valdez (the Alaskan port the vessel was named after) at the time of the disaster. I saw firsthand how politicians, government, the media, environmental groups, and even the company itself handled this disaster differently in a world transitioning toward 24-hour news cycles and increasingly sophisticated messaging.

There were many very sincere, intellectually honest, and well-intentioned members of the news media, government officials, environmental activists, and company people engaged at the time; however, any voices of reason were too often drowned out by the loudest and most emotional ones. Those loud voices were the ones caught by the TV cameras, a trend that has become far too prevalent on too many environmental and natural resource issues today.

Objective science and environmental collaboration were one of the most tragic losers in what became the largest corporate public relations disaster of our time. Just as the hybrid car dichotomy illustrates the problem with environmentalism in a microcosm, the Exxon Valdez spill perfectly illustrates the power players propagating the myth of modern environmentalism.


Somewhere along the way, many of us got the impression that the news media followed a certain set of common journalistic ethical practices. We came to believe that reporters, especially those with big, credible, statewide, national, and international media outlets, had all been taught and adhered to a set of standards, including things like remaining impartial, covering all sides of a story, and fact-checking sources and information in the process. We believed that reporters had editors overseeing their work. Above the editors, we further believed, were publishers who did the same.

My own experience as a primary worldwide spokesman for Exxon during the first days of the Exxon Valdez oil spill crisis in Alaska confirmed how those beliefs were put into practice by media of that era. My role in the first days of the crisis involved contact with media from all over the world, both by phone and in person with those who descended into Valdez in the days after the spill. During that time, I interacted regularly with one of the world's leading old-school traditional journalists of that era, senior Washington Post correspondent Jay Mathews, who was on the scene in Valdez.

Mathews, who is still a senior columnist with The Post, tracked me down in person, a spokesman for a company under global fire in the heat of the worst global environmental and public relations disaster of our time, in the small hotel serving as makeshift command center, and handed me a roll of foil paper that looked like a long grocery store receipt. He produced it from some sort of early portable printer. It was a copy of the story he was about to file that night for the next morning's edition of The Washington Post, four time zones away. It was a story guaranteed to run on the front page the next morning, and his request was that I fact-check everything that related to the company — all of its quotes and the facts and figures about the spill that had come from company statements.

Mathews was confident in the story angles he had already chosen. He was independent and clearly could not be swayed in that independence by the growing army of fisherman, environmentalists, state regulators, company people, or anyone else who was out pushing their own angle on what had become the biggest environmental story of our generation. Mathews was confident enough in his own objectivity and committed enough to get all of his facts right that he would share the draft story with me, and possibly people from the other interests involved, to verify the factual accuracy of what he was reporting.

Unfortunately, reporters like Mathews now find themselves in the minority in most newsrooms. News media staffs and budgets have been cut dramatically in the reshaping of the big media industry in the digital age. Many big news organizations are down to a third or a quarter of the staffs they had as recently as the mid-1990s. Correspondingly, these cutbacks coincide with an age of advocacy journalism, where a new generation of reporters, editors, and publishers are increasingly out to advance specific political, economic, social, and environmental agendas through their big media outlets and conglomerates.

In the evolving new age of "journalism" of the past 20-plus years, this trend has been most profound in coverage of environmental issues. In the environmental and natural resource policy arena, media increasingly choose story angles focusing on environmental controversy, worst-case scenarios, sensational headlines, Armageddon-hype angles, and "big business is bad" messaging. We've all seen the headlines: "Warming report sees sicker, poorer future" (Associated Press, November 3, 2013) to "Climate change threatens coffee, chocolate" (Tribune Washington Bureau, May 13, 2013), as well as "With more ships in the Arctic, fears of disaster rise" (New York Times, July 23, 2017).

On climate change issues, reporters often go to the same proand anti-climate change "experts" for quotes to fill in the blanks in reaction to these new "expert" reports. While reporters write the stories that reshape our societal beliefs, editors skew the headlines toward extreme, sensational angles designed to get readers' and viewers' attention and hook them in, thus increasing media ratings and, subsequently, media sales. When reporters increasingly go back to the same "sources" again and again, knowing who they can call who will be opinionated and quotable — and, often, what these sources will say before they say it — is fill-in-the-blank reporting. And the more we hear them, the more we believe their perspectives are fact rather than one-sided opinion.


The problem of oversimplifying in our sound-byte culture goes far beyond the media. Too often today, big global, professional environmental organizations increasingly take a far more simplistic approach, appealing to our emotions, using bumper-sticker slogans and rhetoric to incite emotion and fear over science to advance their causes.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the sincere basic tenets of the modern environmental movement were founded on a desire for truth and greater environmental protections based on scientific facts, as a lack of scientific environmental and regulatory oversight was an underlying factor in our nation's air and water pollution. A movement grew advocating for much-needed stronger environmental protections based on science, and the need for stronger formal processes for environmental permitting, with higher bars. The movement advocated for formal, scientific processes to decide major natural resource policy decisions and supported the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. This led to a quantum shift in societal decision-making. The combination of modern science, technology, and these laws, along with the standards and processes they established, helped clean up our air and water across the country.

When I started college in Los Angeles in 1982, the Clean Air Act and associated standards, such as the phase-out of leaded gasoline, were still transitioning into effect. At the time, there were rarely days you could see from the mountains to the sea across the basin due to the famous smog and poor air quality that had come to define Los Angeles itself. When my own daughter started college in Los Angeles 30 years later, my visits to the new Los Angeles of the 21st century revealed a far different situation than when I had been a student there just a few decades earlier. Now, it is a rare day when you cannot see from the base of the San Gabriel Mountains in Pasadena to the sea across the Los Angeles Basin. This is truly one of the greatest environmental cleanup stories of our generation. Yet it isn't anything we see cited in professional environmental group newsletters or on bumper stickers. Why not?

Like the media, advocacy groups too often ignore the good in favor of the outrageous — and ignore the complexities in favor of oversimplified single-issue stances. Take another example: In my home state of Alaska, media have inundated us in recent years with headlines about studies warning that global warming is melting the polar ice cap and could threaten the very existence of iconic polar bears, one of the most interesting, hearty, intelligent, and fascinating creatures in the Arctic. Armed with these studies, advocacy groups petitioned the US government to put polar bears on the US Fish and Wildlife Service's endangered species list in 2008, initiating a process that, if successful, would result in wide-ranging federal restrictions on human activity across the US Arctic. It all sounded straightforward enough, and the issue gained international momentum as well-meaning people across the globe heard the doomsday headlines and started stampeding to "save" the polar bears.

Yet some people reacted in a surprisingly different way, as key Alaska Iñupiat Eskimo Native leaders stepped into the debate. These leaders were focused on both caring for the natural Arctic environment that is so critical to their subsistence hunting and fishing culture and improving the socioeconomic plight of Alaska Natives living in the Arctic, people who are often still relegated to living in challenging conditions. These Native leaders asked about finding a balance between the impacts of the proposed restrictions on their human activity, which is necessary for the pursuit of much-needed economic opportunity for the Iñupiat Eskimo people. The proposed restrictions could preclude this opportunity, thus hindering Iñupiat efforts toward self-determination, economic self-sufficiency, and the associated improvements in basic public health, high-quality education, and affordable housing and energy for their people. Many of us in the developed urban world take these necessities for granted, but too often they are in desperate short supply among many Native people living in the Arctic.


Excerpted from "The Facts of the Matter"
by .
Copyright © 2018 David Parish & Associates, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 Following the Herd toward the Cliff,
2 So What Do We Do?,
3 Yet There Is Hope!,
4 How the Big Guy Can Help the Little Guys Make an Even Bigger Difference,
5 Raising Up Entire Societies,
6 Increasing Wealth Can Increase Environmental Protection,
7 Living a Collective Mentality of Abundance Rather Than Scarcity,
8 Think Differently,
9 Improving How We Think and Teaching to Think,
10 Improving the Environment through a Better Society and Leadership,
11 A New Path for Big Business,
12 Improve Humanity,
13 The Last Shall Be First,
14 Better News Media,
15 Better Political Leaders,
16 A Better Future,
About the Author,

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